Volunteers at last year’s MLK Day of Service

Volunteers at last year’s MLK Day of Service numbers in the thousands. (Photo: Many Helping Hands 365)

In a time of resurgent racism, fear and threats of violence, the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday arrives Monday with pertinent readings, songs and a talk from a former official at the Department of Homeland Security. But in Cambridge the focal point remains the MLK Day of Service, run by the group Many Helping Hands 365.

“Last year, we had over 2,500 volunteers, and we expect many more this year,” said Lori Lander, the event’s chief organizer and founder of the nonprofit.

Now in its sixth year, the event has grown by leaps and bounds from the 400-plus volunteers who participated from the start, but the mission is the same: helping thousands of needy people and some 70-plus Cambridge service organizations throughout the year with a one-day grab-bag of activities – making fleece blankets for children at family shelters and adults sleeping outdoors; bookmarks for literacy programs; Valentines Day cards for seniors, veterans and military personnel; putting together activity kits for children waiting at hospitals; assembling toiletries kits for people at domestic violence and homeless shelters; sorting donations for food pantries; and organizing clothing donations for other programs.

Juliette Kayyem

Juliette Kayyem, a homeland security expert, is set to speak Monday at a “Celebration of Dr. King’s Life and Work for Peace, Justice and Transformation.”

Organizers say it is one of the largest community service events in New England.

“Cambridge is an extraordinary and generous community,” Lander said, noting the array of people who participate.

Corinne Espinoza, a parent at the Amigos School, said in a Many Helping Hands 365 press release that she had been “thrilled” by the chance to attend the first Day of Service, and that she and her son have since made a tradition of attending.

“What better way to teach him about our legacy of civic engagement, work towards social justice and equality and determined service than to have a ‘day on’ instead of a day off,” Espinoza said, referring to Monday being a government and school holiday.

The event begins with a 2 p.m. gathering on the steps of City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square. Participants then may work until up to 5 p.m. in City Hall or the nearby YWCA, 7 Temple St.

Volunteers can register in advance here; they are asked to bring items such as winter clothing, nonperishable food and children’s books to donate.

Other events

In addition to the Day of Service, there will be a “Celebration of Dr. King’s Life and Work for Peace, Justice and Transformation” from 11 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. in St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 838 Massachusetts Ave.

This annual MLK Day commemoration and remembrance includes readings of King’s words; music from singer and poet Véronique Epiter and members of the city’s Episcopal churches; and remarks from Juliette Kayyem, a Cantabrigian and lecturer in public policy at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government; Kayyem, once President Barack Obama’s assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Homeland Security, now also serves as an on-air security analyst for CNN and hosts the podcast “Security Mom” for WGBH.

Brian Corr, executive director of the Cambridge Peace Commission, said the commemoration was crafted for “this time of renewed focus on the challenges of racism, fear and threats of violence,” adding:

“In 1967, Martin Luther King described what he saw as the most serious challenge for our society. In his words, ‘We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

“Almost 50 years later, the United States still faces these three existential challenges to our values as a nation,” Corr said.

There will also be a lunch and gathering from 12:45 to 1:45 p.m. in the undercroft (basement) in St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 838 Massachusetts Ave.